Remember, Oldham West is a so-called "core area" filled full with "our people" - a mix of white and Asian working class and small business people. If Labour cannot win and win convincingly in a constituency of this composition, then we're in trouble. Second, much was made during the Labour leadership campaign that Jeremy had what it takes to reach out to voters alienated from politics, chiefly Labour people who've drifted to UKIP, or lapsed into voter abstention. Can his leadership inspire these folks back to the fold? Well, going by the inside track among activists who've worked the seat solidly these last few weeks, there is a Jeremy effect but, unfortunately, not the one the tens of thousands who supported him were hoping for. Apparently, one-in-ten of our regular supporters are either thinking of sitting at home or flirting with another party on by-election day.
As any party activist will tell you, voter ID is hardly a benchmark the science of data collection relies on. But then there is that ComRes poll that has the Conservatives on a 15-point lead. Is that the sky I hear tumbling down outside my door? No. As UK Polling Report note in their useful commentary on the poll, this is less a result of our party vote fracturing and more a case of them weighting it to reflect turn outs by class and age demographics. This could be dismissed seeing how the pollsters proper cocked up the general election, but the trend - also helpfully provided on the aforementioned - is one of divergence vis a vis the Tories. If that wasn't annoying enough, the actual votes in actual local council by-elections this month are pretty poor, and with only one more Thursday to go it's unlikely Labour are going to pull the irons from the fire in time to avoid turning in the worst monthly performance since this blog started tracking local by-elections.
This could be a temporary blip, a week being a long time and all that. Unfortunately, I don't think this is the case. Consider this for a moment. The government are on the ropes over tax credits. Jeremy Hunt, the clutz in charge of flogging off NHS services to "any willing provider", has provoked an ill-judged dispute with junior doctors. He's had his face smacked by a 98% support for full strike action on a 76% turn out. This week Osborne's going to announce more swingeing cuts to public services and, if that wasn't all, the press regardless of political complexion has been rammed with coverage over the shitty behaviour of Mark Clarke and the predatory cesspit of Tory activist life. It's hard to imagine the enemies of our movement getting a rougher ride out there in real-life land, and yet our support is failing. Why?
The Tories won in May because they played the fear card. They could very well win in 2020 as their policies increase precarity and pile up social anxiety. What Labour needs to do is make the issue of security its own. I've been banging about it for ages, not least because insecurity and the fear it engenders is the well-spring for all manner of nasties. Racism, antipathy to immigrants, social distrust, UKIP/far right voting. This was something the old leadership under Saint Ed at best only half-got, but what Jeremy and co. understood. Until this week.
Jeremy's position on shoot-to-kill is right, but was handled spectacularly badly in the wake of the Paris attacks. His equivocal response painted his leadership into a corner that suggested he would not countenance armed responses to terrorists on the streets of Britain. Very quickly, it didn't take much to string this together with his pacifism, with John McDonnell's did-he/didn't-he signing of a letter calling for the abolition of MI5 and armed police, opposition to bombing IS targets in Syria, and long-term objection to Trident replacement, And in so doing, Jez fell into a bind of his own making. In an anxious country where the Bulldog spirit has long since evaporated and insecurity is milked for political purposes, putting yourself out there as someone who isn't prepared to do what is perceived to be necessary to make the country safe against its enemies is doomed politically and guaranteed to fail electorally. In short, Jeremy has positioned the party as an unsafe option, and that is not a great place to be in.
Can Labour come back from this and win? It pains me to say this. I think anyone addressing the British political scene soberly, with an understanding of the emotions, the interests, the shifts that structure it day-to-day and week-to-week is going to have to err on the side of no. It's one thing to stir up insecurity for political benefit, as the Tories are past masters at doing. Quite another to be seen inadequate and equivocal before it.